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Afonso V of Portugal

Afonso V of Portugal, "the African", thirteenth king of Portugal was born in Sintra in January 15 1432 and died in the same city in August 28 1481. He was the oldest son of king Duarte of Portugal by his wife, princess Eleanor of Aragon. Afonso V succeeded his father in 1438, only six years old.

During his minority he was placed under the regency of his mother, according to the late will of his father. Being a foreigner and a woman, the queen was not a popular choice for regent. Opposition rose and the queen's only ally was Afonso, illegitimate half brother of Duarte I and count of Barcelos. In the following year, the Cortes (assembly of the kingdom) decide to replace the queen for Pedro, Duke of Coimbra, the young king oldest uncle. His main policies were concerned with avoiding the development of great noble houses, kingdoms inside the kingdom, and concentrate power in the person of the king. The country prospered under his rule but not in a peaceful environment, because his laws interfered with the ambition of powerful nobles. The count of Barcelos, a personal enemy of the duke of Coimbra (despite being half-brothers) became the king's favourite uncle and began conspiring in a constant struggle for power. In 1442, the king makes Afonso the first Duke of Braganza. With this title and its lands, he became the most powerful man in Portugal and one of the richest man in Europe. To secure his position as regent, in 1445 Pedro marries Afonso V with his daughter, Isabel of Coimbra, princess of Portugal.

But in June 9 1448, in the adulthood of the king, Pedro has to surrender the power to Afonso V. The years of conspiracy by the duke of Braganza finally paid their price. In September 15 of the same year, Afonso V nullifies all the laws and edicts approved under the regency. The situation becomes unstable and, in the following year, being led by what he afterwards discovered to be false representations, he declared Pedro a rebel and defeated his army in the battle of Alfarrobeira, in which his uncle and father in law was killed. After this battle and the loss of one of Portugal's most remarkable princes, the duke of Braganza became the de facto ruler of the country.

Afonso V then turned his attentions to the North of Africa. In his grandfather's (John I of Portugal) reign, Ceuta had been conquered to the king of Morocco, now the new king wanted to expand the conquests. The king's army conquered Alcacer Ceguer (1458), Tangiers (won and lost several times between 1460 and 1464) and Arzila (1470). This achievements granted the king the nickname of African. The king also supported the exploration of the Atlantic ocean led by prince Henry the Navigator but, after his death in 1460 he did nothing to pursue this course of action. Administratively, Afonso V was a absent king, since he did not pursue the development of the laws or the commerce, preferring to remain with the legacy of his father and grandfather.

When the campaigns in Africa were over, Afonso V found new grounds to battle in the Iberian Peninsula. In the neighbouring country of Castile, a huge scandal with political and dynastic implications was rising. King Henry IV of Castile was dying without heirs. From his two marriages, only a daughter, Joan, princess of Castile had been born. But the paternity was questioned because rumour said the king was impotent and the queen, princess Joana of Portugal, was having a notorious affair with a nobleman called Beltrįn de La Cueva. The birth of princess Joan in 1462, openly called the Beltraneja, caused the divorce of her parents. Moreover, she was never consider as legitimate and now that the king was dying, no one took her as a serious pretender of the crown. It was her aunt, Isabella I of Castile that was due to inherit the crown. But Afonso V was keen to interfere with the succession in Castile. In 1475 he married his niece Joan, the Beltraneja, who he consider the legitimate heir to the crown. Since her adulteress mother was his own sister, Afonso V had not only ambition, but the family honour to protect. He proclaimed himself king of Castile and León and prepared to defend his wife's rights. But in the following year he was defeated at the battle of Toro by king Ferdinand II of Aragon, the husband of Isabella of Castile. He went to France to obtain the assistance of Louis XI, but finding himself deceived by the French monarch, he returned to Portugal in 1477 with very low spirits. Disillusioned and depressed he fell into a deep melancholy and abdicated to his son Joćo. After this, he retired to a monastery in Sintra where he died in 1481. His death was morned in the country, by the people who loved the king, and by the nobles who were starting to fear his successor.

Afonso's marriages and descendants

See also: Kings of Portugal family tree - Alfonso d'Albuquerque (contemporary Portuguese naval general)

Preceded by:
D. Duarte
List of Portuguese monarchs Succeeded by:
D. João II